Top, Miguel Laino, Paciente, 2012, Acrylic, 40.2 x 40.2 x 1.6 inches. Via. Bottom, George Maciunas, Flux Smile Machine, 1971, Plastic box, etiquette, spring with plastic device, 12 x 9.3 x 3.2 cm. Via.
Noha Mahmoud Salem, 53, describes herself as a former “fanatic” and Salafi. She began wearing the niqab, or veil, at the age of 21. At 24, she married a conservative Muslim and they had three boys together. But around the age of 30 she began having doubts about religion, and she stopped praying.
Both Noha and her husband thought she might have a psychological problem. She went to see specialists who told her she was suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder and needed strong medication. The medication didn’t seem to help, and she was still questioning her faith, so she was given stronger and more harmful drugs. She became like a zombie, she said.
"It stopped my thinking and I was afraid that some damage had been done to my brain," she recalled. "When I stopped the medication, my brain gradually recovered."
But her questioning of religion continued. Noha finally got divorced from her husband in 2007, after nearly 25 years of marriage. She does not, however, describe herself as an atheist. ”It is better to say I am a ‘Muslim’ but ‘an intellectual Muslim,’” she said, “because when I say ‘I am a Muslim’, people will begin to hear me. Otherwise they will be my enemies.”
Yet she cannot get her three sons to listen to her. Her relationship with them is a big source of anguish. She describes them as Salafis. They treat her harshly, and warn her that she is going to hell; meanwhile, she tells them there is no hell.
Patrick Keddie, Egypt’s embattled atheists - Facing online threats and personal isolation, non-believers band together for communal support, for Al Jazzeera, November 2013.